Uncovering why people are off sick can help companies reduce stress in the workplace, says Activ Absence

New research from employment law firm, GQ Littler[i] suggests the number of ‘fit notes’ issued by doctors saying someone is not fit to work due stress-related disorders, increased by 8% last year.

Commenting on this rise, Adrian Lewis, Director at Activ Absence says more needs to be done by employers to uncover the root causes of sick leave absence to help reduce stress in the workplace.

Adrian says,

“This research indicates that more people are having time off for stress, however, the impact of stress doesn’t happen overnight. Often people have taken a few days off here and there, perhaps always on a Monday or are suffering from more colds than usual.

“These could be early warning signs that people are stressed out. If employers intervened earlier on to address why someone is feeling stressed, then it could help reduce the numbers having several days or even weeks signed off by the doctor.”

The latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive[ii] show 12.8 million working days are lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, and in 2018/19 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and 54% of all working days lost due to ill health.

Adrian Lewis continues,

“Stress is costing businesses money with millions of lost working days. Employers therefore need to do more to help their staff who are suffering from stress, but first they need to know who they are.

“This can be difficult as many employees don’t let on that they are suffering or lie about what is wrong with them if they take time off. There is still very much a stigma around mental health issues in the workplace that needs to be overcome.”

A 2019 survey[iii] by Censuswide and Slater and Gordon, found of the workers who took mental health days, 55% told their employer they were physically ill, and less than a third (32%) admitted that the reasons were to do with mental health.

The reasons they weren’t honest with their boss is either they did not think they would be understood or be supported, were embarrassed to tell the truth or did not want their colleagues to know.

Adrian Lewis concludes,

“We recommend employers use technology to track and monitor absence, which can help flag up root causes of absenteeism. Investing in absence management software helps companies spot trends such as regular days off or a rise in sick leave from particular employees.

“It enables managers to have a complete overview of what is going on in terms of when people are off, how often and why. It prompts return to work interviews too. These are essential in giving employees a safe and confidential environment to discuss health concerns such as stress or anxiety.

“Often stress is due to heavy workloads, long working hours or high targets, so it may mean addressing the workplace culture. But without the insight this software offers employers can remain in the dark and employees suffer in silence.

“Once a manager knows someone is struggling, they can give support, suggest ways to deal with stress or direct them to specialist services. This enables them to nip stress in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue. It also shows the company is caring and wants to look after the wellbeing of their workforce.

“The overall benefit to the business is people feeling happier, motivated and more productive at work and less likely to have time off. A win win for all concerned.”

For more information on absence management software visit www.activabsence.co.uk